When she was just 10 years old, Erin Alessandra Jung was already savvy enough to start up her own beauty channel on YouTube, BeautywithErin.
"What does a 10-year-old even know about beauty?," one would contest.
But this young girl was undeterred and her love for makeup and beauty is evident in the content that she uploads.
Over the years, Erin has been regularly posting makeup tutorials, shopping hauls, and vlog-style videos documenting random bits and pieces of her life such as the first day of high school and even her entrepreneurial journey.
Fast forward to today, the self-professed makeup lover has over 11,000 subscribers (and counting).
She is also the proud founder of Candela Cosmetics, a budding cosmetics company in Singapore, which she started up at the tender age of 16 back in June 2015.
Throughout the first six years of being a YouTuber, Erin said that she tried and tested a lot of different beauty products on her channel, but failed to find a "holy grail" product that wouldn't break her out.
Everything she tried was way too harsh for her sensitive skin, and when she resorted to existing natural makeup brands, she was sorely disappointed by the poor colour payoff.
Out of frustration, she decided to launch her own makeup line - sans the usual harsh and harmful chemicals.
Called Candela Cosmetics, the brand only uses organic derivatives in her formulations such as mango butter, coconut water, carnauba wax, and castor oil.
We caught up with the now 18-year-old Erin, who is currently based in Los Angeles, USA, as she talks about what made her take the leap of faith to carve her own path.
Running Her Own Business At Age 16
So how was it like to be a boss of your own business, even before reaching adulthood? I asked.
And I guess a more burning question is: where did you secure the fundings to kickstart your venture at such a young age?
According to Erin, she received funding from her school's (Singapore American School) Catalyst Project, but it wasn't substantial.
Even with some financial help from her parents and income generated from her long-time YouTube career, the sum was still insufficient to start a brand.
This prompted her to take up a part-time job as a front desk officer at W Hotel, where she tenaciously saved up to bring her makeup line to life.
As a business rookie, Erin confessed that she had no clue about business plans and how to even go about it. At that point of time, all she wanted was to get hold of her products.
During her last semester of her junior year, she reached out to some cosmetic manufacturers and worked with them to develop products that she liked and had the potential to sell well.
Within a month, she received her first batch of products. But, what next?
There was zero business planning. I just wanted the product and looking back at it, I jumped in too far. There was no concrete plan, and sales were not happening.
"I launched my website and put the products on Carousell and that's how I got my early traction. Selling on Carousell was convenient, but I didn't like it because people were always trying to bargain with me."
"Back then, my prices were also much lower ($6 to $10) for a brush, so it got very tiring after a while. Afterwards, I did some pop-up sales before refocusing on formulating new products."
Formulating Her Own Makeup
Erin spent the first semester of senior year in the Catalyst project focusing on research and development to elevate her makeup line.
At the start, her attempts to formulate her own cosmetic products were a failure. For instance, her formulae would cause products to be either too wet or too dry, or even burn in the mixing process.
She ramped up her efforts studying the science of makeup and and in her final year, she conducted extensive research on cosmetic chemistry and skin biology so she could improve on the product quality.
After countless rounds of trial and error, Erin finally stumbled upon a magic formula that was highly pigmented and skin-friendly.
"In May 2016, we had another launch of the lipsticks, foundations and blushes that I had created. The response at launch was great, and we were even able to get our products in retail."
"This year, we have pivoted again and come out with a new line of liquid lipsticks called the Luxe Liquid Lip. They are available online and we hope that they will be in select retail stores internationally by the end of the year."
Struggles Of A Young Entrepreneur
But of course, it has not always been a smooth-sailing journey for Erin.
The young entrepreneur found it challenging when people did not take her seriously in the dog-eat-dog world of entrepreneurship.
When she first started out, she was met with a lot of doubts and skepticism from the people around her.
Because of her young age and lack of experience, she was unable to legally set up the business on her own, and many thought that she would be too immature to handle entrepreneurship.
Just the other day at a networking event, someone even called me "Boss Baby". It's incredibly challenging to be a young entrepreneur knowing that you have to work extra hard to be taken seriously. It forces you to grow a thick skin and to communicate clearly and effectively, so as to assert that you are credible and competent.
But on the other end of the spectrum, she has also met several people who have been impressed by her entrepreneurial spirit at such a young age, and they often remarked to her that they wish they had started earlier too.
"Sometimes people spend years, if not decades, in a job that they aren't passionate about. Following your passion young means that you never have to wonder what could have been."
Standing Out From The Stiff Competition
The beauty industry is clearly very competitive, and there are already so many different brands and products available in the market. So what sets her brand apart from other competitors?
"I think we have a very unique international appeal that reflects a modern brand. We were founded in Singapore but I'm American, so I've brought Candela to Los Angeles (where I live now) as well."
"My partners live in Vancouver and London, but we all lived in Singapore, so we have a very diverse team to say the least."
"As a truly global brand, we are able to better understand the differing beauty needs of those across the world. We spend a lot of time testing our colour palettes to make sure they are universally flattering and inclusive."
So how do you think homegrown beauty brands compare to international beauty brands?
"A vast majority of international brands are owned by large conglomerates, which continue to acquire smaller companies and dominate the market. Homegrown brands are often independent and have a heart and soul that you don't see in huge retail stores."
"Having said that, I have full faith that homegrown brands can be successful."
"I had the pleasure of having lunch with Sabrina, founder of Skin Inc, in LA earlier this year and I think her brand is the epitome of homegrown success. I don't think it's easy, but I definitely think it's possible for homegrown brands to make it internationally."
Making A Mark On The World Map
Right now, Erin said that she is prioritising on completing her university studies before committing to pursue Candela Cosmetics full-time.
At the same time, she is also juggling a part-time job managing human resources at a restaurant at her university, and the majority of her earnings are funnelled back into the company.
"We are privately funded and although we are not cash flow positive at the moment, we anticipate breaking even sometime soon," said Erin.
True to her optimism, the future for Candela Cosmetics seem bright.
They have been collaborating with retail stores like Naiise to sell products in their stores, and are expanding into some retail stores in the United States soon.
"I think something important for budding entrepreneurs is to not focus so much on the economic side of things. If all you're thinking about is money, then everything seems like a sunk cost. Never forget about what you've gained and how far you've come."
"Spend time researching the market before you start your business. It's really important to know what you're getting yourself into, know who you're competing with, and fully understand consumer trends."
Make sure you figure out all of your administrative and logistical needs before starting your business. As a young entrepreneur it is very easy to overlook things that might not be familiar, like taxes, legal fees, and rent.
"Also understand that entrepreneurship is risky and come to terms with chance that you may fail. You can always gain knowledge from a failed attempt by studying what went wrong and taking it as a lesson learned. Don't let your fear of failure hinder your progress!"